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No On 2: Students With Disabilities

Most charter schools in Massachusetts serve students with disabilities at a much lower rate than the districts in which they are located. If you are skeptical of this claim, I encourage you to go to the DESE website and check the numbers yourself. 

But those numbers won't tell you everything about this issue. Most specifically, the DESE data lumps all students with disabilities together. Which means that a child with ADHD who needs extra time in a quiet space when there's a test is counted the same as, for example, a child who requires a one-on-one aide. 

One thing I'm really proud of as a Boston Public Schools parent and a Boston resident and taxpayer is that the Boston Public Schools welcome everyone. When a non-verbal five year old on the autism spectrum applies, BPS does not say, "we can't help you." They say, "here's how we can help you."

Deaf students, blind students, students with "multiple handicaps which are physical, cognitive, and severe in nature": all are served by the Boston Public Schools. (A quick search found this document from 2013 enumerating the various populations of students with disabilities within BPS).

Charter schools are neither designed nor set up to serve these students. That's not an opinion. They simply don't have the scale to do the job. 

Serving all students, no matter what their needs, is justice at the most basic level. I'm proud to live in a city that does this and proud to live in a country where this is the law.

Serving students with severe disabilities is also very expensive, which brings us to Question 2.

Charter schools in Boston get the BPS per-pupil allotment for every student that enrolls. But, as noted above, they don't serve everyone. They were never designed to do so. And the BPS per-pupil allotment is higher because BPS serves these students. What this means is that charters in Boston are getting money that includes the cost of educating the students with the highest need without serving these students.

The students with the highest need must remain in Boston Public Schools, only now the budget is stretched thin because some students who don't need the services have left the system and taken their per-pupil allotment with them.

In other words, charter schools as they are currently financed undermine the ability of the Boston Public Schools to serve every student, including those with serious disabilities.

Question 2, then, boils down to a question of what kind of city, commonwealth, and country we want to live in. Do you believe that serving all students is a profound expression of justice? Or do you think those students are a drag on everyone else and should ultimately be left behind?  Because that is what's fundamentally at stake here. 

Are we going to open twelve new schools per year whose budgets rest on the backs of the disabled? If you look at the PDF I linked to above, you'll see that BPS serves 786 students who are classified as "severely emotionally and behaviorally disturbed." Imagine the challenge of raising such a child. (Or maybe you don't have to imagine it.)

Now imagine telling those parents that you can't help them. BPS administrators will be the ones who have to have those conversations, but we will be responsible for shutting the metaphorical door in those parents' face because it will be our votes that create the policy.

Can you live with that?   Is that the kind of society you want to help create?

I hope your answer to those questions is no. If it is, please join me in voting no on Question 2.

 

(Note: I've tried to be sensitive with how I've written about disabilites: if I've unintentionally used a term that is outdated or offensive, please let me know and I will make the edit.)